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A global model for methylmercury formation and uptake at the base of marine food webs

TitleA global model for methylmercury formation and uptake at the base of marine food webs
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsZhang Y.X, Soerensen A.L, Schartup A.T, Sunderland E.M
Date Published2020/02
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0886-6236
Accession NumberWOS:000520158900010
Keywordsaccumulation; atlantic-ocean; bioaccumulation; demethylation; dissolved organic-matter; Environmental Sciences & Ecology; Geology; mercury methylation; Meteorology & Atmospheric; phytoplankton; Plankton; sciences; speciation; trophic transfer

Monomethylmercury (CH3Hg) is the only form of mercury (Hg) known to biomagnify in food webs. Here we investigate factors driving methylated mercury [MeHg = CH3Hg + (CH3)(2)Hg)] production and degradation across the global ocean and uptake and trophic transfer at the base of marine food webs. We develop a new global 3-D simulation of MeHg in seawater and phyto/zooplankton within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology general circulation model. We find that high modeled MeHg concentrations in polar regions are driven by reduced demethylation due to lower solar radiation and colder temperatures. In the eastern tropical subsurface waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the model results suggest that high MeHg concentrations are associated with enhanced microbial activity and atmospheric inputs of inorganic Hg. Global budget analysis indicates that upward advection/diffusion from subsurface ocean provides 17% of MeHg in the surface ocean. Modeled open ocean phytoplankton concentrations are relatively uniform because lowest modeled seawater MeHg concentrations occur in oligotrophic regions with the smallest size classes of phytoplankton, with relatively high uptake of MeHg and vice versa. Diatoms and synechococcus are the two most important phytoplankton categories for transferring MeHg from seawater to herbivorous zooplankton, contributing 35% and 25%, respectively. Modeled ratios of MeHg concentrations between herbivorous zooplankton and phytoplankton are 0.74-0.78 for picoplankton (i.e., no biomagnification) and 2.6-4.5 for eukaryotic phytoplankton. The spatial distribution of the trophic magnification factor is largely determined by the zooplankton concentrations. Changing ocean biogeochemistry resulting from climate change is expected to have a significant impact on marine MeHg formation and bioaccumulation.

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